US industry backs new site security bill but unions seek more

27 February 2014 18:37  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US chemicals industry leaders on Thursday voiced support for a two-year extension of the existing federal mandate for antiterrorism security measures at plant sites, but union officials told a House hearing that the law is inadequate and inefficient.

In a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, BASF corporate security chief Clyde Miller said his industry welcomes legislation that would codify the federal Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) and give the law a two-year period of stability.

Originally created in 2006 as part of an appropriations bill, CFATS has faced annual renewal considerations since then, a process that yearly raised the prospect of changes to the regulations.

In addition to providing a two-year period of certainty, the bill being considered by the subcommittee, HR-4007, would make CFATS a permanent part of federal law.

It also allows regulated companies to use alternative security plans to meet the federal mandate instead of having to follow only the outlines specified by inspectors from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which enforces CFATS.

In addition, the bill would allow use of third-party inspectors to certify that plant sites are meeting security standards. This would help speed the process of DHS site inspections, which have been criticised for being too slow and time-consuming for plant operators.

Speaking on behalf of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Miller said that a longer-term authorisation for CFATS “will provide the regulatory certainty and operational stability to give the industry confidence that our long-term capital commitments to this programme are appropriate”.

Kate Donahue, president of specialty chemicals manufacturer Hampford Research in Stratford, Connecticut, said that codification of CFATS and the allowance for third-party inspectors would save money and time for small businesses while ensuring security precautions under the law.

“Even under ideal circumstances, it costs companies, especially small businesses, time and money to plan for, pay for, prepare for, and clear days off of calendars of multiple employees to comply with a programme like CFATS,” she said.

Testifying on behalf of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), Donahue said that “Responsible companies like Hampford want the CFATS programme - but we want a stable and predictable programme.”

She also hailed the bill’s provision for use of existing federal personnel security clearances and ID documents for vetting workers at and vendors visiting chemical facilities.  Industry officials have long complained that setting up an entirely separate personnel ID security system within CFATS would be costly and duplicative.

But Anna Friendly, legislative representative for the United Steel Workers (USW) union, charged that the existing CFATS and the proposed bill extending the law simply cement “an inadequate and ineffective status quo”.

She said that neither the existing law or the pending bill provides security requirements for rail cars and trucks carrying chemicals that often are parked outside a chemical facility’s property for days, with no security arrangements in place.

Friendly also said that HR-4007 should mandate use of inherently safer technology (IST) as “the most effective means of reducing a catastrophic chemical incident”.

If made part of the CFATS security mandate, IST requirements might, for example, oblige a plant operator to use less toxic substances, alter production processes or keep lower volumes of hazardous materials on site.

“Many companies will never even look into innovating with safer chemical processes without a legal requirement to do so,” she said. The US chemicals sector has opposed any federal mandate for IST measures.

She also criticised the bill because it fails to provide adequate protection against collection of employee data for security clearances, and it “lacks a requirement for a meaningful role for workers in chemical security”.

USW and other unions want employees at chemical facilities to be given a seat on company security committees or other offices that make security arrangements at plant sites.

HR-4007 will likely be marked-up - fashioned into final form - by the subcommittee and then be handed on to the full House Homeland Security Committee for further consideration. A vote on the floor of the House has not been scheduled.

By: Joe Kamalick
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